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Building Systems is Your Key to Success

Did you know that even the way an email is responded to needs a system? The same is true for the way you assign and hold your team accountable to results. Whether you know it or not, systems are everywhere in your organization. You, as the leader of the organization, are a systems engineer, whether you’re aware of it or not. Ignoring this truth will create an organization that’s out of control. I like to call it, organized chaos. 

The key to having an organization that simply works is creating your systems with intention. What this means is many organization leaders inadvertently create ‘systems’ that completely depend on themselves, or specific employees, without even realizing it. That is a great deal of intellectual property that leaves the organization every day. One day, they might not come back. 

For example, if your Student Admissions Director Mary is the only one in your organization who knows how the lottery runs and enrollment forms are added into your data base, then Mary is your student admissions department. If Mary leaves, your system disappears. However, if Mary wrote down everything she does during her daily routine and everything someone needs to know within her Key Result Area execution, you now have a documented system. 

 Here is an easy nine-step process to create systems for any part of your organization:

  1. IDENTIFY AND NAME DESIRED RESULTS: (i.e. New Student Enrollment).
  2. DIAGRAM THE SYSTEM: Diagram the steps in the system showing their sequence and how they relate to each other. Use a simple box and arrow diagram with brief captions to outline and describe each step. 
  3. WRITE SYSTEM STEPS IN CLEARLY-STATED BENCHMARKS: The boxes in your system diagram are actions that serve as benchmarks. Select each verb carefully so that the process is clear to anyone who might perform the work or supervise it. In this step, you restate the work in a complete sentence that clearly communicates the work to be done or action to be taken. 
  4. ASSIGN ACCOUNTABILITIES: Identify by position, not by person, which roles are accountable for the system as a whole and for each of its benchmarks. When you finish documenting the system, a copy of the system action plan (step 3) goes into the operations manual for everyone filling those positions. 
    1. EXAMPLE: Student Admissions Director will be responsible for monitoring the student enrollment procedures and updating the enrollment and waitlist lists daily. Student Admissions Director will update or input new student information into data portal within two business days. 
  5. DETERMINE THE TIMING: Knowing when each benchmark needs to be performed is a key element of getting the result you want. Establish appropriate timing for each step, for only certain steps, or for the system as a whole. This might be expressed in terms of clock time (by 10:00 a.m.), project time (day one, day four), generic phrases (upon receipt, weekly), or a combination of these. 
    1. EXAMPLE: When we have a new family accept enrollment, they will be added to our database. Student Admissions Director will send enrollment forms and check all paperwork with database for accuracy at the end of each month.
  6. IDENTIFY REQUIRED RESOURCES: Every system requires resources: for example: staffing, work space, facilities, equipment, supplies, and information. When useful, list the specific resources and quantities of each needed to operate the system. Some systems won’t have a lengthy list of resources; they may be just the individuals involved and their everyday work supplies and may not require a list. 
    1. EXAMPLE: Resources are: enrollment database (Powerschool, Excel).
  7. DETERMINE HOW YOU WILL QUANTIFY THE SYSTEM: What gets measured gets done. How will you know if you’re getting the result you want from your system? How can you make decisions about your organization without information about the performance of your systems? You need quantitative data to give you that objective view. Without it, you’re operating blindly. The best time to create the method for quantifying each system is at the time you first design and document it.
    1. EXAMPLE: Student Admissions Director will check all addresses and information for accuracy prior to the principal monthly report (PMR) and calculate the percentage of successful entries. 
  8. ESTABLISH STANDARDS: Set the standards for performance of the system and behavior of the staff operating the system. Standards are most easily stated in terms of quantity, quality, and behavior. These could include measures of output, defects, cost per item, guidelines for staff behavior, dress codes, and even ethical standards. If it’s key to producing a successful result, then you need to set standards for it. 
    1. EXAMPLE: Each verification takes approximately 2 minutes to check, and there’s typically 500 a month. 
  9. DOCUMENT THE SYSTEM Put it in writing. It’s not done until it’s documented. You don’t have to create a flowchart to have a documented system. An action plan, video, checklist, and even screenshots are just some examples of how to document your system. 

By having a checklist system in place, your training time is reduced; your risk is minimized; and the productivity increases. In addition, the intellectual property that lives in the head of your best employees is retained for future employees. As a result, your organization will experience less stress and sustained success. 

Begin identifying what parts of your organization need systems and what areas already have written down systems. Reflect whether the systems that are in place are working effectively. Prioritize what systems need to be written and set a goal per week (i.e. 2 systems written per position per week). 

Not sure where to start? Download our charter school leader quarterly checklist and begin mapping out what systems you might need, who is responsible for what, and when. Click here to download. 

Your friend,


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